Homemade Green Tea Absolute

It’s so much fun creating your own perfumery materials to experiment with.  Here I’ve taken some photos of the progress of a green tea absolute.  Well, an absolute of sorts, it’s really a highly concentrated tincture. A true absolute would use a lighter hydrocarbon such as hexane to extract the aromatics at the first stage but here I’ve just used an alcoholic tincture.

 

Green Tea Absolute 1          Green Tea Absolute 2      Green Tea Absolute 3

The first photo shows the tea when I’d just added it to the alcohol (the menstruum) – there’s about 300ml of liquid there.

The next photo shows about 250ml of the tincture after it had been re-loaded with tea four times (leaving a few days between each load and discarding the spent tea leaves) Check out the colour!

Then the last photo shows about 20ml of the home-grown absolute where the majority of the alcohol has been evaporated out as quickly and gently as possible (I won’t tell you how as it’s kinda dangerous and I won’t be responsible 😉 It’s almost black.

The result? Interesting. It has a very grassy, dried hay smell which doesn’t last long. A coumarin and tobacco smell but not as sweet and with tea-like overtones. Definitely a top note material which would probably have limited use. I’m going to let it age for a while and see if it improves. A while back I did the same thing with a box of black tea and the result was certainly more useable with a much more pronounced and longer lasting tea and tobacco scent.

Beeswax Absolute

Animal derived materials have been used throughout history to provide an incredible depth, naturalism, erotic funkiness and fixation to perfumes. Most of these materials cause harm to the animals when ‘harvested’ and so are not ethical to use by today’s sensibilities. Synthetic equivalents do a good job, however when used in a fragrance they don’t impart the gut response, the stimulation of the primitive parts of the brain that the real thing can. A large part of the fascination of vintage perfumes is due to the real musks, civet and castoreum used in them.

Luckily, there are a few real animal derived materials that can safely be used in perfumery without harming the animal in any way. One of them is beeswax absolute, others are ambergris (from the sperm whale) and hyreceum (from the hyrax).

The smell of beeswax absolute is nothing short of intoxicating with notes of honey, wax, dried fruit, hay, tobacco, vanilla and an animalic muskiness. The wax that is used in its creation is taken from hives that have been occupied for at least 5 years and so it retains the scents of the bees themselves and is rich in honeyed pheromones.

Apis mellifera

Apis mellifera

The major countries producing beeswax absolute are Spain, France and Morocco and as you can imagine, the scent and quality of beeswax absolute is highly variable depending on the region, climate, production methods, season, species of bee etc. The actual flowers that the bees visit within each region you would think would be a cause of variability as well, however when the beeswax is collected, the wax from different hives is all melted together into large blocks, ready for transportation, thereby cancelling out any floral variation within that region.

When using this material in perfumery, it is a good idea to try out as many different varieties as possible, sourced from different suppliers and regions. Although the effect of a little beeswax absolute in a blend may not be dramatic, try running tests with absolutes sourced from both France and Morocco and you will end up with two noticeably different perfumes.

Similar to botanic absolutes, beeswax absolute is created by extracting both aromatic and waxy molecules from the honeycombed wax and propolis of Apis mellifera – the honey bee. The resulting concrete is then dissolved in ethanol and the more volatile molecules are then extracted from the concrete by evaporation, resulting in the completely ethanol soluble and mostly wax free absolute. The final yield is around 1% of a thick and gooey, dark, golden brown substance.

Beeswax Absolute On a Stick

Beeswax Absolute On a Stick

The chemical constituents of beeswax absolute are many and varied, but the most important aromatic components are (in order of relative volume):

phenylacetic acid
linalyl acetate
benzyl benzoate
vanillin
linalool
benzyl alcohol
benzyl cinnamate
phenylethyl butanoate
ethyl phenylacetate
methyl phenylacetate
terpinyl acetate
1,8-cineole
heliotropin

Abstract Honeycomb

I have been experimenting with these materials in various proportions (with the addition of various others) and have come up with a luscious, rich base that I can use as an adjunct to the real absolute – the real stuff is very expensive, after all!

In fact honey bees are under serious threat from urbanization, overuse of pesticides and especially the deadly varroa mite which has been spread by poor beekeeping practices. So far, Australia is the only country completely free of this deadly parasite. As a result, this wonderful perfumery material can only become harder to obtain and more expensive in the future and its use will become limited to only the artisan fragrance houses for whom the cost of materials is not so much of a consideration.

Oakwood Absolute

Let it be known that I am officially enamoured with oakwood absolute.

I recently received a sample of this amazing material from French essential oils and natural extracts producer Biolandes. Having heard roumers of a rare and seemingly mystical essence romantically created from aged oak barrels discarded by French wineries, I came across a real-life reference to it as a newly released product in the October 2010 Perfumer and Flavorist magazine.

Old CaskAs far as I can tell, Biolandes is the only manufacturer of this true oakwood (Quercus robur) absolute – please correct me if I’m wrong and you know of another.  It is actually made from new oakwood and not from used barrels but you would not guess that from the aroma and I had to confirm this fact with the Biolandes sales rep as I was unbelieving that such a richness could come from the new wood alone.

There are a few producers of an oak bark extract which is used to provide a whiskey or aged brandy note to alcoholic beverages and there is also an oak bark powder dietary supplement. The extract is created by seeping pulverised oak bark in hot water – a different process from the absolute and I imagine these products would not have the depth and complexity of the absolute.

I am at a complete loss as to why oakwood absolute is not being used more frequently by perfumers around the globe – particularly by the indie / artisan perfumers. It is not overly expensive and there are no particular safety concerns that I can find. Perhaps it just is not well known out there, being relatively new – hopefully this blog entry will go small way towards rectifying that.

The absolute is brown, viscous and opaque and is supplied diluted to 50% with triethyl citrate (TEC) – to make it more useable. When opening the vial and taking a smell of the pure material you are immediately transported to a wine cellar in the Bordeaux region of France, surrounded by the old casks and the fermented smell from years of red wine spilled on the stone floors.  There is a mustiness there along with woody notes and warm, sweet raisins and vanilla.  Smelling this stuff provides an immediate insight into the flavours and aromas that oak imparts to wine and why the type and quality of the wood used in the casks is so important.

Oak Tree

To delve a little into the chemistry involved, the main volatile compounds in oakwood that are present in the absolute and also impart their aroma and flavour into wines are:

cis- (and trans-) oak lactone – responsible for the majority of the  vanilla and coconut-like aromas. These lactones vary greatly between the types of oak selected and are affected by the seasons and differing growing regions.

Guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol – these have a smoky / spicy / vanilla aroma and are created by and vary depending on the levels of toasting the cask staves are subjected to before the wine is stored. These chemicals are probably not actually present within the absolute as the Biolandes sales rep assures me that the oak used to produce the absolute is not toasted before-hand. But these ingredients are extremely important to the vintner.

Vanillin – Vanillin is the main flavour compound in natural vanilla and is also present in oakwood. The level of vanillin imparted into wines stored in oak barrels decreases over time as it is transformed by yeast metabolism during fermentation. Vanillin concentration can be reduced considerably if primary fermentation is carried out in the barrel.

The oak absolute has a nice vanilla / coconut note due in part to the vanillin content.

Furfural and 5-methylfurfural – once again, these sweet, caramel / butterscotch smelling materials are mainly a result of the toasting of oak and may not be important in the scent of oak absolute, but are obviously important to the vintner.

Syringaldehyde – has an aroma described as sweet, chocolate, woody, tonka, grape. Syringaldehyde  is interestingly used by some insects as part of their chemical communications system and plays an important role in the over-all impression of the oak absolute.

Biolandes’ oakwood absolute begins life as by-product oak chips that the company purchases from the famous cooperage firm Dargaud & Jaegle. The oak used has been felled under National Forest Office control, from October to April when the sap is down and has been selected from 17 selected stave suppliers from around the region. The volatile components are extracted from the wood chips using a light hydrocarbon (hexane, I believe) and further processed to arrive at the final thick, dark, viscous and fragrant liquid.

To DreamArtisan perfumer Laurie Erickson has used oakwood absolute to good effect in the Sonoma Scent Studio perfume named

To Dream where the oakwood plays a supporting role to the main floral theme.

I have been working on a perfume for Evocative Perfumes that instead moves the oakwood to centre stage supported by incense, rose, woods and a warm smoky ash.  The original concept for this perfume was to simply enhance and adorn the natural qualities of the oakwood and was inspired by my visits to the local cellar doors of the Barossa wine region here in South Australia with their huge old barrels, open fireplaces in the winter and long, polished counters.

As development has continued over the last couple of months however, the overall effect of the perfume has become progressively softer and warmer and my partner now says that it invokes more of a spiritual feeling in her, in fact the words Gregorian chant came to mind just this afternoon. It feels right, but it seems a little trite to use that expression as a name for the fragrance – I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes.

The Abbey in the Oakwood by Casper Friedrich

The Abbey in the Oakwood by Casper Friedrich